Start-up

Big Awards SYNC with Jonathan Gebauer Founder of ExploreB2B

SYNC with Jonathan Gebauer Founder of ExploreB2B

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We recently interviewed Jonathan Gebauer, the CEO and founder of ExploreB2B, the content marketing, social media platform. Their goal is to help companies find other business partners through sharing relevant business content. Jonathan likens it to a dating site for businesses. Having started in Germany, Jonathan shares his thoughts on starting up, growing the platform and working with family. This is a great interview with a real "David" taking on the "Goliath" likes of LinkedIn and others ion the market.

Jonathan has also agreed to join the 2013 judging panel for the Big Awards. We look forward to his leadership.

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Interview Transcript

Russ: Good afternoon, everyone. This is Russ Fordyce from the Business Intelligence Group. Today, we've got Jonathan Gebauer on. Jonathan is the CEO and co-founder of ExploreB2B. Jonathan thanks for joining us.

Jonathan: Thanks for having me.

Russ: You developed this platform that is a content marketing social network platform. Tell us your vision for the platform and how you got started.

Jonathan: The initial vision for the platform was basically to create a dating site for businesses, which sounds weird, but in my opinion, makes absolute sense because what you really need in business is new contacts, get out of your own area and get your business into the minds of other people.

Get corporation's going, just as you and me actually right now. That was the initial vision. What we've developed is basically a social network where you can publish your content, your ideas, your product and connect to others and interact with others about your content and about their content and find, basically, the perfect match for your company.

Russ: Yeah, so we've actually published a lot of articles on this site. We've got interaction with other like-minded professionals. How do you go about enabling those relationships between companies? How do you help others find each other?

Jonathan: First, we've got this system of basically everyone can reach the status being an expert on Explore B2B, which gives himself more credibility and makes others want to contact him. Then, the second thing is basically … a main thing probably is to show everyone the content that is actually relevant for him.

Basically, you publish in your industry or in the industry you want to connect to. Then, anyone in that industry is actually given that content, but only those people who actually subscribe to the content. You always get the content you actually want on Explore B2B. We try to limit them as much as possible …

Russ: Okay.

Jonathan: Again, what we want to achieve is them to get a lot of content and them to get a lot of readers, but actually get those readers that are interested in your content and will then connect to you.

Russ: Yeah, it makes perfect sense. It's like a more refined and more focused LinkedIn type of discussion and type of content platform.

Jonathan: Exactly, it's a content platform, while LinkedIn is not really a content platform. You can use it distribute content via groups and via sending out status updates, but it's not an actual platform for the initial content. What we do is we put all those concepts together in one and so it's a content and distribution platform.

Russ: You initially started the site in Germany. I think you're based in Germany. Now, you've expanded to the US and other markets. Tell us what it was like starting up in Germany and how you guys got started.

Jonathan: Actually, starting in Germany was … looking back on all the big mistakes, plus starting in Germany. Actually, with all things in the new economy and all things, social media in Germany is actually far behind in the other markets and kind of a black box because [inaudible 00:04:17]

Every new social media startup from the US gets copied just for the German market, so we’ve got all those small social networks that are really closed down. Our vision was actually to connect globally. It's going to make more sense when it works globally. From the German market, it's really hard to get out.

The language barrier was a problem, so we had to basically start again with the [NTE news 00:04:50] platform. [Inaudible 00:04:52] also running and it's actually running quite well right now. The news platform started again with an empty platform because we never wanted to buy content.

You can do that. We never did that because we wanted to achieve is that every piece of content has its own person behind it so you can contact the person who wrote it and get in touch and … yes.

Russ: How do you go about managing those profiles? How do you really try to quash the spam bots and the other guys that are just looking for links? How do you try to manage that?

Jonathan: Actually, it turned out that it actually manages itself quite well. We've got a writing system on the side so that people can write good articles that are interesting. Whenever a spam, obviously of course, happens, but it happens very few times, [Inaudible 00:05:54]. Actually, receive emails, I have a look at that that [inaudible 00:06:00]

Right now, we are really, really surprised, actually, at the quality of content we get. We actually expected to get much more content in the beginning, but we have to teach people, “Please, only post interesting stuff,” but that actually didn't happen.

Actually, the really surprising thing is that even people who know use other platforms like LinkedIn for spam actually find really good content on Explore B2B.

Russ: Well, that's great. The site's been going tremendously. Every day, I look at it and it's growing by leaps and bounds. How do you manage through that growth? You guys obviously have a technology platform that's got to scale. How are you guys managing through those growing pains?

Jonathan: Actually, we have some really partners in the technology department. CDL has been extremely great at managing the scale of the platform. In the end, it basically comes down to its how often [inaudible 00:07:14] work and much too little people so we don't get much sleep.

Russ: You’re just pouring man hours in, it sounds like.

Jonathan: Right now, we are, because … ask any [inaudible 00:07:29] actually we are tremendously understaffed. In the end, we manage and we manage really well right now. Then again, I think we’ve dropped, I don't know, a couple of hour’s downtime in the last year or so. Yes. I'm actually surprised how well we actually manage to keep the platform going. Sometimes we are [inaudible 00:07:59] but it works and we are happy.

Russ: Good. Now, you've also developed the platform to have a premium model that allows for experts and users to … I guess the initial subscription model there is for, I guess, analytics and to see who's viewing your articles and to get some analytics about it. How's that going? I see you have other tiers in stage. Are you guys working towards development on those? How is the overall subscription model going?

Jonathan: The subscription model is actually developing well. It's developing slowly, but it's developing well. What we have right now on site is, as you said, statistics. Also, what our premium users get is … in case their reader is coming directly from [inaudible 00:09:02], we get them the exact person who's interested in their content.

That is basically something that no other social platform can really give you. Who is the actual reader of your content? LinkedIn can show you whose been visiting your profile, but once it comes to the content itself, the stuff you post in LinkedIn groups, they can tell you who read your article. That is something we can do and that is of high interest for people who actually marketing things on Explore B2B.

That is the [inaudible 00:09:42]. We are actually working towards relieving a lot of new [inaudible 00:09:49] I can’t really tell you when it’s coming, but it’s coming soon. That would go in the direction of … We are basically having more interaction points and more options to actually get in touch with the readers and be proactive there.

Russ: We’re going to have to keep an eye on the site and keep an eye on the news for that. You, actually, started the platform in an hour working, I think, with your sister in developing the platform. How is that family relationship working out for you?

Jonathan: Family relationship, yeah, everyone wants to know about that. Founding a company with your own family can be really stressful, but founding a company is always stressful. Actually, known stories of friends founding companies together and in the end they turned out suing each other. Actually, when you found a company with your sister, you’re much less likely to sue each other, basically. There’s always that family bond that is much stronger than just friendship. That really is a plus on that side.

Russ: Both of you have studied mathematics extensively. I think your sister holds a PhD in mathematics. How has that helped you in that startup world? Has it given you stronger algorithms? Is it giving you more analytical skills? You would think that a content marketing social media site would be more marketing people, less mathematics. Tell me how those mathematics degrees and studies have helped you.

Jonathan: It helps a lot in understanding technology and Explore B2B still a technology company. I have to say my sister holds a PhD mathematics, but after that she spent five years in strategic consulting and that’s where the actual business idea and the actual problem we want to solve originated. My role, actually the more technology oriented one because I not only studied mathematics, but computer science as well.

While I’m not a developer on Explore anymore and I’ve actually never developed Explore B2B itself, I happen to develop it before and it helps a lot in talking to technology people and [inaudible 00:12:42]. I’m basically the product manager of the company. It really helps when developing a tech company but it’s not that important for the business side of things. Apart from giving more analytical approach on solving problems, I guess.

Russ: If you could wave your magic wand, what challenge are you having right now that you’re struggling with that you’d like to go away? What’s your biggest challenge in growing the platform in the community?

Jonathan: If I had a magic wand I would probably just … basically, encourage growth. Basically, it’s still hard, because we are now on a global market, it’s still hard to reach out to all smaller markets that you’re actually trying to transform into one market. I’m not sure I know how to do that with a magic wand or how to make that quicker with a magic wand. This is something we are facing and that is what we’re working on and that is what I would improve with a lot of small things. To be honest, if I had a magic wand I would just speed up development time. Because we have so many ideas that we want to fix on the platform and want to improve on the platform. Basically, development takes time and money and things are always much too slow.

Russ: You mention time a couple times here. You’re putting in 120 hour weeks and you get an hour off. What do you like to do personally? What are you doing with that hour other than sleeping and the other stuff?

Jonathan: We are both a huge fan of dogs. I, actually since my girlfriend’s got another dog, I now have two dogs and one is a family dog, which we share with our whole family. We found that you can actually [inaudible 00:15:16] if we have an hour, we call him our data security watchdog. Apart from that, I take a lot of liking in photography and videography. Sometimes I like to do that in my scarcely available free time. Apart from that, I’m actually kind of forgetting what I used to make my life [inaudible 00:15:47] before I founded this company.

Russ: I appreciate you taking the time with me this morning. This has been Jonathan Gabauer from Explore B2B. Jonathon, I really appreciate you jumping on with a big award [inaudible 00:16:02]

Jonathan: It was fun that you had me and I’m liking your project a lot, actually. I’m happy that we met.

Russ: Yeah. It’s been great working with you. Thanks, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Thank you.

Big Awards SYNC with Sumall CEO Dane Atkinson

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Dane Atkinson is a serial entrepreneur, having grown SenseNet and SquareSpace into significant leaders in their respective markets. Now Dane is taking the world of big data and business intelligence head-on as CEO of Sumall. The mission seems to be simple, give companies powerful business intelligence tools to help them better visualize and understand their analytics data so they can make better decisions and more money. 

Interview Transcript

Russ: Good afternoon, everyone. This is Russ Fordyce from the Business Intelligence Group. Today we're doing a SYNC interview with Dane Atkinson. Now Dane is a serial entrepreneur. He started a company called SenseNet when he was 18, then went on later to found Squarespace, and now he's got a new project called SumAll, and we're going to talk to him about SumAll. Dane, thanks for joining us and welcome to our SYNC interview.

Dane: A pleasure. Happy to be here.

Russ: So you've had a lot of experience in kind of being an entrepreneur and developing companies. What really drives you into these kind of new markets and developing these new companies?

Dane: Well, the lifestyle is relatively addictive. One of the better quotes is that it's sort of a pirate life. It's less about the treasure at the end and more about the experience of trying to change the world and do things interesting. So I've been infected since youth and can't imaging a different way to go. I think the thing that's also missed is, there's a lot of choices in life, but the entrepreneurial style actually gives you the best way to personally develop. When you work at a large organization, you can usually insulate your decisions by the team around you. So if something goes wrong, it's not necessarily your fault. It's the manager's fault. It's the organization's fault. When you're an entrepreneur, if you don't get people to buy your product, it's pretty much your fault. And that's a really harsh lens to look at yourself with it, but it's also a great way to evolve. Yeah, differently.

Russ: We were talking right before we started about failing, and about failing fast and failing often and making sure you're failing quickly. I would imagine that you've done a lot of failing, trial and error. How do you deal with the rejections and the failing?

Dane: I think that you have the right perspective that failing isn't as classically defined a failure. It's an investment. It's an education. So if you look at it in that fashion, that this is a long-term path, and there will be battles won and the wars, hopefully you'll be victorious, but many of the battles lost. It's a little less rough. That said, my first company got to be pretty big, my first major company. We had hundreds of people on different continents. When it tanked due to a lot of different variables, it was a very hard experience to go through. It's gotten a lot easier to deal with that kind of emotion afterwards. But I think the first time you build a company, you get more of your soul imbedded in it, and it's a rougher failure. But if you can get through that and come out the other side, it's pretty good.

Russ: Yeah. So you're now helping companies realize where they're failing on their social media and analytics and all their online platforms. Tell us a little bit about SumAll and kind of the origins of that and what you're looking to do.

Dane: So the origins. We feel that data is a better way to inform your decisions. Big businesses have certainly used information to optimize their plans. There seems to be a growing gap, though, between what small businesses, even what medium-size business have compared to those big guys. As the information multiplies literally every year, there need to be ways that humans can actually access their information in a smart fashion. So we started out creating an experience where you can link up all of your cloud data that you don't normally see into one environment. That's your Google analytics or your Braintree or Authorize or Stripe. And actually look for patterns amongst that data without having to be an engineer or an analyst or any of those sort of heavy lifting jobs. It's deployed against everybody. It seems, obviously we're on a rising tide. Big data's a big tide. But our application is definitely, even though it's far from perfect, we hit some chords. It's growing very nicely.

Russ: I would imaging you're going through that hockey stick growth period right now. You're getting good exposure in the marketplace, mentions everywhere. How are you dealing with that growth, both from a systems perspective, and also how are you dealing with that growth from just time and family and even employees.

Dane: We've been to the hockey stick before, so we're as a team better oriented around the family and organizational structure. What we got really slammed with was the amount of data we ended up onboarding. In the last quarter, we added almost a half trillion impressions. So if you consider your website having 100,000 visitors, we're tracking a half trillion, or 500 billion of them now, across all our customers. And that made us a very big data company and really slammed our infrastructure. So we spent the last quarter somewhat unplanned putting more investment there. It's all slowed down our customer onboarding, which has all been fixed. But it was harder than we expected. Growth can be a lot of fun.

Russ: Now you are famously known in the tech community as the CEO of Squarespace, and I think your value proposition there is really helping companies to avoid that slam, or avoid the effects of the slam. So are you eating your own dog food, drinking your own champagne with the Squarespace platform, or are you leveraging your knowledge there and building a new platform.

Dane: We love Squarespace, so we're still using their platform for our blog. And obviously the expertise of building a scaled infrastructure deployed across everything. I think that Squarespace has had its own hockey stick of growth. We sort of modelled around that kind of environment, but we didn't anticipate sort of the Fortune 1000 enjoying our system as well. So when you get mega sites putting their traffic against us, that was even more than we had initially anticipated, but you're right. One of the secret sauces for Squarespace is that it never goes down, and that it always provides a stable environment for people to look at their sites on. And that's what we're trying to bring over here is that reliable environment where your data is always there, and we've been able to maintain that. It's just been a very sharp hockey stick.

Russ: You said something interesting, which is the Fortune 1000 or fortune 500 are adopting your platform. I think there have been a lot of statistics coming out that the marketing departments will outspend the rest of the company for IT budgets, in their own IT budget. And you're definitely playing into that. Even small guys and large guys that are looking for better or faster or more nimble tools. But you've got an interesting pricing model with SumAll. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that pricing model and how it will evolve.

Dane: So we believe that your own information should be free, because it's yours to start with, and all we're doing is letting you see it. So for most of our lifespan we've been entirely free. And we'll persist with having some affordable application always available to everybody. And now we're trying to figure out how to intelligently price it. We've been doing price testing this last quarter. The trick for us is, to your point, the marketing departments are very heavily engaged now trying to find tools, and we were stunned that giant companies would push all their data towards a little unknown company like us. But it just shows that the frustration is almost universal. Even in big organizations, there's still a lack of visibility, particularly inside the organizations that don't have the engineering analytics around them. So our struggle will ultimately be how do we provide a pricing model that supports a billion dollar business down to the person in scarves. But it's sort of how ad words or analytics or any of those kind of things work, if you adopt that same kind of flexible structure.

Russ: You're also kind of taking on the big gorillas in this space. There are large-scale corporations, some in the Fortune 500 themselves that are interested in this space and trying to deliver, pardon the pun, business intelligence into these organizations. How are you adapting or evolving the market based on what you know about those big gorillas?

Dane: We are very much the antithesis of the big gorillas. Their installations are heavy, deeply integrated, tied into a lot of data points unique to those organizations, very costly. They do provide insights that we don't get to. So they're much better at determining a single individual customer that's scaled through your shopping cart, or in this case through your overall process. We are extremely lightweight, very fast to get going. It's minutes to get all your data into our environment. And provide a more transparent view of everything you're doing, which turned out to be useful to the big companies as well, because I don't think we have that same sort of overview. Even people using tools like Omniture and IBM look to us because they can get a better overview than they can with those tools. We are almost a market opener. So I think the thing that's exciting for the industry is it's obviously growing, but our piece of it is, we're getting people to appreciate data and recognize patterns across different data sets earlier. So they'll see things like weather's impact against sales, or an understanding of how some social traffic actually draws revenue behavior, where other social traffic does nothing. That may not get down to the post level or the atomic level, but it at least encourages the customer to figure out what's going on, and that will drive them to other tools out there. We see tons of our customers getting excited about how to figure things out, and then going to sort of vertical applications to get a deeper dive.

Russ: Do you see yourself evolving the product to bring more business intelligence to the data? Meaning, are you going to look to spot trends for your customers and try to give them alerts, or are you leaving all that kind of analysis up to them?

Dane: It's tricky. We've been looking at algorithms that apply across all of our customers. But the problem is when you have tens and tens of thousands of businesses, they are so varied that it's very tricky to have the same level of intelligence that a customer has about their own information. So what we're doing is, we provide guidance where things are headed. So we do trend analysis, sort of projections of where things are. And we're starting to do pattern recognition against your different data sets to really illuminate patterns. But it's always going to be to a degree up to the customer to cipher out what's really happening. We just want to provide the best practices or the guidelines of what they should be looking at and where insights might lie, what other people have discovered. But no, the customer is going to, hopefully through a nicer experience like ours, be able to determine things that would be very difficult for an application to do on its own.

Russ: I would imagine your tool, like others in the marketplace in various arenas, is very ripe for developing a community that can kind of self-serve. You've seen it with Marketo and SalesForce and others that are providing these very powerful, rich, flexible, fast platforms. Do you see yourself growing into that kind of community model.

Dane: Absolutely. That's another lesson we learned from Squarespace is, you really want to make sure you have enough velocity before you turn the community switch. We're very lucky to have an extremely active population. We're at the point now where with 30,000 active sites, it's pretty easy to turn on a community and expect them to sort of support each other. We're only a year and a half into our application, so we didn't want to do that, but we just had several thousand there. We think that historically the best way to improve your business is to get support around you, that is to get other people to give you their insights and help you drive towards behavior change. So it's definitely part of our road map.

Russ: Speaking of your road map, what else is in the road map? What are you looking at in that three to six month, nine month window?

Dane: Well, nine months in our world is very long. We push a feature pretty much every second day. So the big thing that we're coming out with is we're going to constantly continue to update the amount of streams that you can get, so we have Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, SCO [inaudible 0:12:16], Tumblr, another 10 or 15 expected to come out over the next month and a half, which obviously broadens what you can see in our tool and understand. From a features side standpoint, we're trying to help illuminate what's in there and make it easier for people to get their data out of the system, make it easier for people to analyze what's happening in real time. Even though our graph is in real time, it's ideal looking at it in full time series. We're trying to eliminate what's happening in that moment for folks. Detail out their reports they're getting. There's a lot of features. It's pretty crazy.

Russ: Well, I can tell you from a personal perspective, we've been using the platform. It's very easy to get into. I would encourage everybody to give it a try. It's remarkable how easy it is, and how quickly you can bring your own data into it. Kudos to your team for that, for making it that easy.

Dane: Thank you. Thank you. That's the trick really.

Russ: So you gave me a little bit of hint as to why your studio there looks so goofy with the black tiles. Can you tell us again the history of that room?

Dane: Yes. We're in Soho, which is a great place to have your office. This room was, at least according to Wikipedia, the original recording studio for The Beastie Boys and a lot of other bands. So you can't really see it here, but the ceiling of this whole area is dropped about 2 feet from the ceiling in general, and the floor is also raised. So we sort of reinvigorated and added in a podcasting studio where they do some shows out of here. It's good vibes. It's good energy.

Russ: Have the boys come back to party or anything?

Dane: No. But we'll be sure to send them an invite. We should get them as our background jingle. See if we can [inaudible 0:13:54].

Russ: Now, you're still CEO of Squarespace, correct?

Dane: No. I'm no longer CEO of Squarespace. The original founder is now CEO of Squarespace. I am just the CEO of SumAll. I'm pretty much dedicated to this entirely.

Russ: Obviously, you guys are running at a very, very fast pace. In the hour that you get off a week to focus on other things, what do are you doing personally to kind of relax and have fun.

Dane: That's tricky. These entities at this stage are really very demanding babies. There's not much down time, much at all. I think for my brain, it's usually best to do things that are highly different and much more physical. So either sports like scuba diving, or building things with my hands so I feel a material change, versus just the [inaudible 0:14:47] ones that we play at all day long.

Russ: That's great. I appreciate you taking the time. We've been talking with Dane Atkinson of SumAll. You can find his new application, business intelligence application for small and apparently large-scale businesses at SumAll.com. I do have to ask you one last question. Is the SumAll name a hearken back to the geeky days.

Dane: I'm glad you get it. Not everybody does. It absolutely is. It's the Excel equation, the sum all.

Russ: That's great. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate your time.

Dane: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Russ: This has been Dane Atkinson with the Business Intelligence Group for another SYNC interview. Thanks, Dane.

Dane: Thanks.

4 Tools from Startups to Help You Grow Your Business

Grow Your Business Using Tools from These 4 Startups

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When you look to grow your business you need tools to help you manage as much as possible so you can focus on what you do best. Like stars, startups often come to us with a bright and promising vision and then, in spectacular fashion, explode or fizzle out and die. But there is always that one star the remains bright, even grows to become a new point of light on the horizon, spectacular and a beacon of hope. Wow, that's pretty fluffy.

Here are a few start-ups that we are keeping an eye on as great resources to help you grow.

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www.zapier.com

AUTOMATE BUSINESS: Zapier is an web-based automation engine that works between online services like Salesforce, Basecamp, Gmail, and LOTS more. Automation engines are not new (another favorite IFTTT.com) but what is different is this is business focused and automates many tasks that non-developers would usually find impossible.

Founders: Bryan HelmigWade Foster and Mike Knoop. ♥ CrunchBase profile.

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www.webflow.com

DESIGN FOR EVERYONE: With smart phones and tablets on the rise and expected to take over our computing lives, a responsive designed website allows any device to have a good user experience as elements scale and reflow based on screen size and orientation. Webflow hopes to be the new tool of choice to create and build responsive websites. Looks promising.

Founders: Sergie Magdalin and Vlad Magdalin. ♥ CrunchBase profile.

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www.cream.hr

BETTER HIRES: Hiring talent is hard enough and Cream seeks to help companies of all sizes better manage candidates by giving them the tools to track and manage your hiring process. Their overall goal is to reduce the number of resumes and candidates to review. More time for those water cooler conversations and office romances.

Founders: Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Caitlin MacGregorChristine BirdNeil MacGregor. ♥ CrunchBase profile.

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www.tableausoftware.com

GET INTELLIGENCE: Managing your business is hard without visibility. Most companies today generate lots of data...say big data. But what you with that data will help you make smarter decisions. Tableau makes software that lets you drag and drop data and filters so you can mine that diamond out of the rough...all from your iPad!

Founders: Christian Chabot, Chris Stolte and Pat Hanrahan. ♥ CrunchBase profile.

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Cover photo by follow777 via Flickr.